By Christy Avery

The Seattle Animal Shelter sometimes finds itself with animals that are not candidates for adoption due to terminal illness or very advanced age. These animals are often given the chance to live out the remainder of their lives in permanent foster homes, where they are cared for by dedicated foster parents. Here are stories of two such dogs.

In April of 2013, while on a walk through her neighborhood, SAS volunteer Ruth noticed a barking dog in a yard crammed full of debris and junk. The dog was confined in a tiny space about three feet wide. He had no shelter and only a bowl of moldy bread crusts and a nearly empty bucket of muddy water. The next day Ruth made it a point to go by the house again, and the dog was in the same spot; he barked but also wagged his tail when he saw Ruth.

After talking with neighbors, Ruth learned that the house was vacant and that the dog had been confined in that small spot for over a month. She contacted the Seattle Animal Shelter, which sent a Humane Law Enforcement officer to investigate the situation. After being identified and contacted, the dog’s owner agreed to surrender the dog, a 13-year-old named Oliver, to the Shelter.

Jason, Oliver (on Jason’s lap) and Weezy

Jason, Oliver (on Jason’s lap) and Weezy

Oliver gets a second chance

Oliver quickly became a volunteer favorite at SAS. The senior dog was always happy; for perhaps the first time in his life he was warm and dry and had plenty of food, water and attention. At first he was so weak from inactivity that he could not go far, and would flop down in exhaustion shortly after being taken out for his walks. As a senior dog, he was overlooked by potential adopters, so as the weeks passed, staff sought a foster home for him. A volunteer named Jason brought Oliver home, and he settled in easily with Jason and his Pug, Weezy.

In normal circumstances, this story might end with Oliver’s return to health, his adoption, and a happy report from his current owners. However, about a month after Jason brought home Oliver, he noticed lumps on the dog. These are common to older dogs and are often benign. Oliver’s lumps were biopsied; one proved to be malignant. He had a mast cell tumor.

Typically, the future of a 13-year-old dog in Oliver’s situation would be bleak. There was now no chance anyone would adopt him, and many shelters would not want to expend any resources on a senior dog with cancer. However, Jason offered to keep Oliver as long as he remained happy and comfortable, and SAS animal care director Don Baxter agreed that Oliver could live out his days with Jason. “Hospice care is not something we expect from our foster parents,” Don says, “but depending on the pet’s health we have given foster parents who are willing to take on that role the opportunity to keep the animal in their home.”

Not only is Oliver still doing well a year after his rescue, his energy level and mobility continue to improve. Asked if he had any qualms about keeping an unadoptable dog with cancer, Jason replies, “None whatsoever. It’s such a joy to see and hear his loud happy yawns as he waits for me to get my shoes on and take him out in the morning. And I have to smile every time I see him let out a quiet contented yawn as he checks out his surroundings while laying on his bed.” As of April 2014, Oliver continues to live the good life with Jason and Weezy.



Macy finds peace in her final months

Macy, a senior Golden Retriever, was another recent resident of a permanent SAS foster home. Macy had repeatedly found her way out of her yard, and after she was picked up by SAS as a stray, her lifelong owners decided they didn’t want her back. SAS foster parent Jayla volunteered to foster the dog. “I was happy to welcome Macy to a quiet home where she was wanted,” she recounts, even though she knew Macy was very thin and in poor health. Macy was initially skittish toward Jayla and her Pit Bull mix Bella. They both gave Macy her space, and gradually the Golden Retriever bonded with her foster parent and canine sibling.

Three weeks after Jayla brought Macy home, a veterinarian told her that Macy had so many health issues that the most humane option would be to euthanize the dog. Not wanting to prolong Macy’s suffering, Jayla made the appointment. Then, as if Macy knew what was going on, she began to perk up, put on weight and want longer walks. Jayla recalls, “Her time was definitely not over.” As he did with Oliver, Don Baxter agreed that Macy could remain with Jayla for as long as the dog remained comfortable and happy.

Gradually, however, Macy’s health began to fail, and three months later she no longer enjoyed a good quality of life. “I was worried I wouldn’t know when to make the big decision,” Jayla says, “but of course it was clear when the time came.”

She continues, “I was blessed having three months with Macy. My job is working with senior adults, and I discovered very quickly that Macy was a wonderful example of how to age gracefully.”

Jayla says that she had been continually asked how she could foster a dog that likely wasn’t going to live long. She explains, “There is so much grace in taking life one day at a time, enjoying it for its own sake, trusting that tomorrow will take care of itself. It’s been very powerful for me to discover I have this gift of love to share, learning that the challenges and sadness are more than overshadowed by the blessings.”


The Seattle Animal Shelter is fortunate to have foster parents like Jason and Jayla, and staff that support permanent foster homes for animals that may not be adoptable. SASF helps to provide support for the SAS foster program; please consider donating today.